Accordion Eulogies

A Memoir of Music, Migration, and Mexico

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Searching, propulsive, and deeply spiritual, Accordion Eulogies is an odyssey to repair a severed family lineage, told through the surprising history of a musical instrument

Growing up in Yakima, Washington, Noé Álvarez never knew his grandfather. Stories swirled around this mythologized, larger-than-life figure: That he had abandoned his family, and had possibly done something awful that put a curse on his descendants. About his grandfather, young Noé was sure of only one thing: That he had played the accordion. Now an adult, reckoning with the legacy of silence surrounding his family’s migration from Mexico, Álvarez resolves both to take up the instrument and to journey into Mexico to discover the grandfather he never knew.

Álvarez travels across the US with his accordion, meeting makers and players in cities that range from San Antonio to Boston. He uncovers the story of an instrument that’s been central to classic American genres, but also played a critical role in indigenous Mexican history. Like the accordion itself, Álvarez feels trapped between his roots in Mexico and the U.S. As he tries to make sense of his place in the world—as a father, a son, a musician—he gets closer to uncovering the mystery of his origins.
I am hounded by the specter of a grandfather I never really knew. He was a migrant and a traveling musician propelled by the songs that clamored in his chest. A man who gambled his lands away and left his wife and son to go hungry. After his disappearance, my grandmother died, leaving her young son—my father—homeless in Mexico. 

My father was deeply bruised by this abandonment, this subjection to suffering at such a young age. It diminished his trust in others, calloused his heart, and made him, in many ways,  more distant than the stars. My grandfather’s absence echoed through the generations, altering my childhood as well as my father’s. For years, he has lived without closure. I’ve spent my life fruitlessly trying to close his hurt for him. 

Because my grandfather was not present in our lives, I grew up unable to make him answer for the childhoods he denied us. I could never confront him for stripping my father of his ability to express love toward himself and his children in the way we needed. I yearned to tell my grandfather of the great man my father became in his absence, who migrated from Mexico to Yakima stricken with fear and made a family there; of the warrior I have become in the aftermath of my grandfather’s mess, raised by the son my grandfather neglected. I longed to show him that what I am today stems entirely from my father’s hard lessons and that nothing about the previous generation lives inside me.

But this would be a lie. Something of my grandfather is alive inside of me, I know, and it grows stronger every day—an inheritance of the accordion, dark shadows, and the impulse to be always on the move.  
Time, A Best Book of the Month
The Orange County Register, A New Spring Book You Won't Want to Miss
Literary Hub
, A Most Anticipated Title


"A working-class desert odyssey . . . With Accordion Eulogies Álvarez has written his own corrido . . . In finding connection through the accordion—originally brought from far away but now the instrumental repository of a million immigrant stories—he has composed a classic melody." —Lorraine Berry, Los Angeles Times

"As Noé Álvarez’s new book, Accordion Eulogies, draws to a stirring conclusion, readers encounter a writer figuring himself out on the page, wrestling with ideas about family history, the complexity of national borders and his purpose as an artist." —Eric Olson, The Seattle Times

"In a follow-up to his award-winning debut memoir, Spirit Run (2020), Álvarez embarks on another journey of self-discovery . . . A lasting theme of the book is that amid life’s disappointments, music offers a healing balm, as do the people who show unflinching generosity. Once again, this gifted writer proves to be an essential contemporary voice." —Booklist (starred review)

"[A] poetic follow-up to Spirit Run . . . The author makes his quest genuinely moving and shows how, for many marginalized communities, 'accordion playing is an act of resistance.' A heartfelt memoir that serves as 'a reminder of what it takes to build love and community for oneself and one’s family.'" —Kirkus Reviews

"[A] poignant blend of personal and cultural history . . . With its rigorous curiosity and emotional vulnerability, Álvarez’s account makes a strong case that the journey is more important than the destination." —Publishers Weekly

"Accordion Eulogies is an unforgettable journey through a hardscrabble family history of migration, loss, and longing. Álvarez teaches himself to play the accordion and visits the time-worn workshops of the last accordion-makers of the world, chasing the ghost of his grandfather along the way. In beautiful, reflective prose and a careful eye for what the world passes over, Álvarez preserves stories—including his own family's—that might otherwise fade to dust." —Emily Scott Robinson

Accordion Eulogies unfolds like the truest corridos: with an invitation into a story of restless hearts and searching spirits, of strength forged by suffering, of ancestral specters that refuse to reveal their true shape. Noé Álvarez has married sacred music history with a personal quest of adventure and loss, and the result is a memoir of deep connection: with the past, a homeland, the self, and ultimately the reader. I’m grateful to have spent time with the melody Álvarez conjured.” —Katie Gutierrez, bestselling author of More Than You’ll Ever Know
NOÉ ÁLVAREZ is the author of Spirit Run (Catapult, 2020). He was born in the desert and raised in the weeds.

About

Searching, propulsive, and deeply spiritual, Accordion Eulogies is an odyssey to repair a severed family lineage, told through the surprising history of a musical instrument

Growing up in Yakima, Washington, Noé Álvarez never knew his grandfather. Stories swirled around this mythologized, larger-than-life figure: That he had abandoned his family, and had possibly done something awful that put a curse on his descendants. About his grandfather, young Noé was sure of only one thing: That he had played the accordion. Now an adult, reckoning with the legacy of silence surrounding his family’s migration from Mexico, Álvarez resolves both to take up the instrument and to journey into Mexico to discover the grandfather he never knew.

Álvarez travels across the US with his accordion, meeting makers and players in cities that range from San Antonio to Boston. He uncovers the story of an instrument that’s been central to classic American genres, but also played a critical role in indigenous Mexican history. Like the accordion itself, Álvarez feels trapped between his roots in Mexico and the U.S. As he tries to make sense of his place in the world—as a father, a son, a musician—he gets closer to uncovering the mystery of his origins.

Excerpt

I am hounded by the specter of a grandfather I never really knew. He was a migrant and a traveling musician propelled by the songs that clamored in his chest. A man who gambled his lands away and left his wife and son to go hungry. After his disappearance, my grandmother died, leaving her young son—my father—homeless in Mexico. 

My father was deeply bruised by this abandonment, this subjection to suffering at such a young age. It diminished his trust in others, calloused his heart, and made him, in many ways,  more distant than the stars. My grandfather’s absence echoed through the generations, altering my childhood as well as my father’s. For years, he has lived without closure. I’ve spent my life fruitlessly trying to close his hurt for him. 

Because my grandfather was not present in our lives, I grew up unable to make him answer for the childhoods he denied us. I could never confront him for stripping my father of his ability to express love toward himself and his children in the way we needed. I yearned to tell my grandfather of the great man my father became in his absence, who migrated from Mexico to Yakima stricken with fear and made a family there; of the warrior I have become in the aftermath of my grandfather’s mess, raised by the son my grandfather neglected. I longed to show him that what I am today stems entirely from my father’s hard lessons and that nothing about the previous generation lives inside me.

But this would be a lie. Something of my grandfather is alive inside of me, I know, and it grows stronger every day—an inheritance of the accordion, dark shadows, and the impulse to be always on the move.  

Praise

Time, A Best Book of the Month
The Orange County Register, A New Spring Book You Won't Want to Miss
Literary Hub
, A Most Anticipated Title


"A working-class desert odyssey . . . With Accordion Eulogies Álvarez has written his own corrido . . . In finding connection through the accordion—originally brought from far away but now the instrumental repository of a million immigrant stories—he has composed a classic melody." —Lorraine Berry, Los Angeles Times

"As Noé Álvarez’s new book, Accordion Eulogies, draws to a stirring conclusion, readers encounter a writer figuring himself out on the page, wrestling with ideas about family history, the complexity of national borders and his purpose as an artist." —Eric Olson, The Seattle Times

"In a follow-up to his award-winning debut memoir, Spirit Run (2020), Álvarez embarks on another journey of self-discovery . . . A lasting theme of the book is that amid life’s disappointments, music offers a healing balm, as do the people who show unflinching generosity. Once again, this gifted writer proves to be an essential contemporary voice." —Booklist (starred review)

"[A] poetic follow-up to Spirit Run . . . The author makes his quest genuinely moving and shows how, for many marginalized communities, 'accordion playing is an act of resistance.' A heartfelt memoir that serves as 'a reminder of what it takes to build love and community for oneself and one’s family.'" —Kirkus Reviews

"[A] poignant blend of personal and cultural history . . . With its rigorous curiosity and emotional vulnerability, Álvarez’s account makes a strong case that the journey is more important than the destination." —Publishers Weekly

"Accordion Eulogies is an unforgettable journey through a hardscrabble family history of migration, loss, and longing. Álvarez teaches himself to play the accordion and visits the time-worn workshops of the last accordion-makers of the world, chasing the ghost of his grandfather along the way. In beautiful, reflective prose and a careful eye for what the world passes over, Álvarez preserves stories—including his own family's—that might otherwise fade to dust." —Emily Scott Robinson

Accordion Eulogies unfolds like the truest corridos: with an invitation into a story of restless hearts and searching spirits, of strength forged by suffering, of ancestral specters that refuse to reveal their true shape. Noé Álvarez has married sacred music history with a personal quest of adventure and loss, and the result is a memoir of deep connection: with the past, a homeland, the self, and ultimately the reader. I’m grateful to have spent time with the melody Álvarez conjured.” —Katie Gutierrez, bestselling author of More Than You’ll Ever Know

Author

NOÉ ÁLVAREZ is the author of Spirit Run (Catapult, 2020). He was born in the desert and raised in the weeds.

Videos from the 2024 First-Year Experience® Conference are now available

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FROM THE PAGE: An excerpt from Noé Álvarez’s Accordion Eulogies

Searching, propulsive, and deeply spiritual, Accordion Eulogies is an odyssey to repair a severed family lineage, told through the surprising history of a musical instrument. Growing up in Yakima, Washington, Noé Álvarez never knew his grandfather. Stories swirled around this mythologized, larger-than-life figure: That he had abandoned his family, and had possibly done something awful that

Read more